1920 Census Records

Two Girls

You can find a great deal of genealogical information in the 1920 Census records. It should be one of your first stops when researching a family member who was alive at the time.

The United States in 1920

The United States in 1920 had just endured two major events: World War I, which lasted from 1914 to 1918, and the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Many soldiers and sailors who served in the "war to end all wars" were still in the service in 1920. They had yet to be discharged from duty. The Spanish Flu was responsible for more than 600,000 deaths from March 1918 to June 1920. It was believed to have been brought to the United States by servicemen returning from Europe.

Both events may impact genealogists. Since some men were still in the service, their listing will appear as part of the census military record, not in their hometown. Likewise, those who died during the epidemic will not appear in the census. If you believe an ancestor should appear in the 1920 census and does not, it is possible that one of these situations may apply.

About the Census

The 1920 Census was the 14th one conducted by the United States. It enumerated a population of 106,021,537 persons, a 15 percent increase over the previous census in 1910. The most populous states in 1920, as determined by the census, were:

  1. New York
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. Illinois
  4. Ohio
  5. Texas

The enumeration date for the census was January 5, 1920. This was a significant change from both previous and subsequent censuses, which had Spring enumeration dates. For many of those enumerated, their age will only be nine years older than in the previous census. They may appear 11 years older in the 1930 Census.

Questions asked in the 1920 Census Records

All questions asked during the census were virtually identical to those asked in the 1910 census. They include:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Relation to the head of the household
  • Marital Status
  • Birthplace and parents' birthplace
  • Immigration status
  • Year naturalized if applicable
  • Property ownership
  • Residence type, whether home or farm
  • Occupation

One question was added for the 1920 Census. For the first time, enumerators asked for the year of naturalization. This is a very helpful question for genealogists, as it will help locate naturalization papers, which can be full of important information.

Using the Census

The easiest way to use 1920 Census records is by using an all name index. This index lists all persons enumerated. Some indices only include the name of the head of the household and any household member with a different surname. This type of index is more limiting, as you must know the name of the household head to locate the record.

If an index is not available, you can also browse the 1920 Census records for an individual. You will need to know the state and county of residence for you ancestor. It is especially helpful if you know the area of the county in which the ancestor lived. You can then determine the enumeration district, which may greatly reduce the number of pages you will need to examine.

Keep in mind when using the census that it contains many errors. Those who answered the questions may have given incorrect answers. The enumerator may have made an error when recording the information on the form. Indexers and transcribers may have have made errors or had difficulty in reading the handwriting. Use census information as a suggestion for facts until you can corroborate it.

1920 Census Records